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Paraplegic IndyCar Driver Finds Electric Racing Car Uniquely Adaptable

by | July 1, 2024

Left a paraplegic following a crash six years ago, promising IndyCar driver Robert Wickens is back on track as part of the Formula E racing series thanks to an ell-electric race car specifically modified by manufacturing partner SPARK he can drive via hand controls. The third-generation Formula E car is the world’s fastest, lightest and most sustainable electric race car.

Roberty Wickens Pocono Raceway Crash

Roberty Wickens seemed to come to an end following a crippling injury suffered during a crash six years ago at Pocono Raceway. (Image courtesy: CBC.)

Six years ago, Robert Wickens seemed destined to become the next great IndyCar driver. He came from the world of Formula One and made Rookie of the Year at the 2018 Indy 500. But later that year, Wickens suffered what most racing drivers would call a career-ending injury at Pocono Speedway, which left him paralyzed from the waist down.

But the 35-year-old IndyCar driver from Ontario, Canada was determined that this injury would not be the end of his story. After years of recovery, he has returned to racing, most recently in the Michelin Pilot Challenge with Bryan Herta Autosport, driving a Hyundai with adapted hand controls in the TCR category. He won the TCR drivers’ championship in 2023.

This past weekend he took to the track at the Hankook Portland E-Prix, the only US stop for the all-electric ABB FIA Formula E series.


Robert Wickens

Wickens has been looking for a way to get back into racing.

Wickens came for a special test session Friday afternoon driving a customized version of the standard Formula E World Championship car.

Formula E cars have undergone some significant improvements since the series first debuted in 2015. For one thing, they’ve gotten major upgrades to their battery packs. Drivers no longer need to start out in one car and then jump into a second halfway through the race, something that would have made it virtually impossible for Wickens to competer.

The third-generation entries are the most efficient race cars on the planet, with almost 50% of their running energy coming from regeneration in the rear and new front powertrain, achieving up to 600kW of total energy regeneration.

Because the Formula E cars are entirely drive-by-wire and use regenerative braking technology to slow down, they’re easily adaptable to hand control. In Wickens’ case, his third-generation racer was modified by Formula E manufacturing partner SPARK to allow him to use paddles on the steering wheel for braking and acceleration.

More than just a test

Gen3 Formula E

The third-generation Formula E racer.

For Wickens, these laps around Portland International Raceway were more than just a test; they are a determined comeback against adversity in his first return to single seat racing since his accident in 2018.

His run in the GEN3 car was not just a one-off demonstration. It was a serious evaluation session for Wickens to assess his opportunities for a full-time return to single seat racing in the future, and to give the Formula E teams a chance to see what this experienced driver could do.

“It was such an amazing opportunity to drive the GEN3 car yesterday,” Wickens said. “Formula E has been a series that I’ve been keeping a close eye on for quite a while, but I never knew how I could get myself into the series. A huge thanks to Formula E and SPARK for their ingenuity and for developing a hand control system for me to drive the car in Portland.”

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What’s next?

Wickens completed eleven full laps, demonstrating the potential for inclusivity and technological innovation within the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship.

“It was only a few laps, but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and it left me wanting a lot more,” he continued. “Hopefully this will lead to more opportunities in the future and possibly a rookie test. I think right now, that would be the goal for me, to try and get onto the grid in Formula E for the future.”

“It’s a privilege to offer a driver of Robert’s caliber a drive in our GEN3 Formula E car,” stated Jeff Dodds, Formula E CEO. “Throughout his career, Robert has proven his speed and talent, and since his accident, his determination and dedication to return to the sport we love has been nothing short of awe-inspiring.”


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